Sunday, August 28, 2016

Different Kinds of Heroes: "A Distant Trumpet" and "Four Feathers"

A Distant Trumpet (1964). I recognize that Troy Donahue's thespian skills were limited. Yet, in the right role--such as one of the naive lovers in A Summer Place--he performed more than satisfactorily. As I've noted before, Warner Bros. didn't do Troy any favors by typecasting him as a wholesome, contemporary good guy. Yet, when he got the rare change-of-pace role, he didn't always succeed. He was creepily effective as a subtle psycho in My Blood Runs Cold, but he seems totally out of place in the Raoul Walsh Western A Distant Trumpet. Is it just me or does a Troy Donahue-Raoul Walsh film sound like an oxymoron?
A lobby card with Troy Donahue and Suzanne Pleshette.
Donahue plays Lieutenant Matthew Hazard, a recent West Point graduate, who has been sent to Fort Delivery in the Arizona Territory. The local Apaches, led by a their charismatic leader War Eagle, have "jumped" the reservation and threaten to start war with the Cavalry. The young officer finds the military installation manned by sloppy troops. He soon whips them into shape. He also makes an instant connection with pretty Kitty Mainwarring (Suzanne Pleshette). Unfortunately, she is married to another officer and--to everyone's surprise--Matt's Eastern girlfriend Laura (Diane McBain) shows up at the fort.

I was looking forward to Suzanne and Diane engaging in a good old catfight over Troy. Alas, everyone remains stiff and proper. That leads to the major problem with A Distant Trumpet: It takes itself too seriously. With this cast, Walsh (directing his final film) should have thrown in the towel, injected some humor, and concentrated on producing an entertaining film. Instead, he gives us a poor man's Broken Arrow without the script and actors that gave that 1950 classic emotional heft.

A Distant Trumpet is not a total waste of time. Max Steiner delivers another convincing score and Claude Akins makes a strong impression in a small role as a "businessman" running a mobile brothel.

John Clements and June Duprez.
The Four Feathers (1939). The best adaptation of A.E. Mason's grand old adventure novel remains the 1939 version directed by Zoltan Korda. Set mostly in Sudan in 1895, Four Feathers balances several impressive action sequences with an appealing tale of personal courage.

We first meet the film's protagonist, Harry Faversham, as a young boy surrounded by military traditions and old soldiers who recount their exaggerated exploits. Harry has no taste for the Army, however--even though he grows up to become a British officer. When he learns of his regiment's deployment to fight the Mahdist Sudanese, Harry resigns his commission. His three closest friends, all fellow officers, perceive his decision as an act of cowardice. They each send him a white feather attached to their calling cards. When Harry turns to his fiancee for support, she offers none. Knowing that she must think him a coward, too, he plucks a white feather from her fan--hence, the the four feathers of the title.

I find it interesting that Harry's fiancee and friends are so quick to brand him a coward when it's clear that he has never embraced the military life. I almost wish that he had stood his ground and rejected the urge to prove his courage. Of course, that would have been a very different film indeed. Four Feathers is first and foremost an impressively crafted, exciting tale of derring-do in the tradition of Beau Geste and Gunga Din. It differs from those pictures in that it's more of a star vehicle than an ensemble piece.

That star is John Clements, whose performance as Harry Faversham was one of only 30 acting credits for the silver screen. He spent most of his career on the British stage, as a performer, a producer, and a playwright. His work in the theatre earned him a knighthood in 1968. It's a shame he didn't make more movies as a leading man. He's quite convincing as Faversham, conveying his character's inner turmoil, resilience, and ingenuity.

There have been numerous other versions of The Four Feathers. Richard Arlen and William Powell starred in a 1929 silent version. Storm Over the Nile (1955) was a B-movie version with a young Laurence Harvey (though Anthony Steel played Faversham). Beau Bridges played the lead in a decent 1978 made-for-TV adaptation. The worst version to date has to be the ludicrous 2002 Four Feathers with Heath Ledger as Harry and a horribly miscast Kate Hudson.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Project X: A Bit of Mission: Impossible, a Pinch of Forbidden Planet, and a Dash of Jonny Quest

Chris George as Hagan Arnold.
One of William Castle's final films as a director, the seldom-shown Project X is a science fiction film brimming with innovative ideas--perhaps too many.

Set in 2118, it has a team of scientists trying to retrieve a forgotten secret from deep inside the mind of government agent Hagan Arnold (Christopher George). As a safety precaution prior to taking on an important mission, Arnold was injected with a drug that would erase his memory if tortured by the enemy (extreme pain activates it). The problem is that, shortly before he lost his memory, Arnold reported that Sino-Asia had developed a weapon that would destroy "the West" in fourteen days. But only Arnold knows what the weapon is and it's locked away in the bowels of his brain!

Greta Baldwin in the "kinery"--where
they turn milk into pills.
To stimulate him into remembering, the scientists provide Hagan with a "matrix"--a false identity complete with memories. They place him in an "anxious environment" by making him a bank robber in the 1960s hiding out with his cronies at an isolated house in the country. Every night, they affix electrodes to his brain and "watch" his subconscious memories, trying to gain information. Meanwhile, there's a mysterious man (Monte Markham) in the woods who's spying on Hagan and a pretty blonde at the nearby "kinery" that quickly befriends the amnesiac spy.

I originally saw Project X on network TV in the early 1970s. My memories of it turned out to be a little false as well. I recalled solely the portion of the plot in which the scientists create the fictional world for Hagan--a trick employed effectively in multiple episodes of TV's Mission: Impossible as well as the excellent James Garner outing 36 Hours (1964). But, as it progresses, Project X takes several unusual turns, even unleashing a sort of id monster reminiscent of Forbidden Project near the climax. Best of all, the "secret weapon"--when revealed--turns to be a diabolically ingenious one.

A Hanna-Barbera scene.
Unfortunately, a protracted running time, a low budget, and an overabundance of bright ideas keep Project X from standing alongside superior late 1960s sci fi efforts like The Power and The Forbin Project. Certainly, director William Castle deserves kudos for taking an out-of-the-box approach to keeping the production costs reasonable. He employed animation studio Hanna-Barbera to design some of the sequences visualizing Hagan's memories. Thus, in lieu of using miniature models to represent an underwater prison, we get an animated sequence. Sometimes, this works amazingly well and other looks like a scene out of Jonny Quest (which it was in one sequence).

Henry Jones admires a brain.
The screenplay was adapted from two novels by Leslie P. Davies: The Artificial Man (1965) and Psychogeist (1966). Another Davies novel, The Alien (1968), served as the basis for the 1972 thriller The Groundstar Conspiracy, which also features a central character with amnesia.

I haven't read Davies' books, but hope his plots are tighter than Project X. Honestly, I can't imagine that any security team would be as inept as the one that guards Hagan. First, they don't re-route the telephone, thereby allowing a potential enemy agent to call Hagan--twice. Then, they let Hagan wander off from the house on his own and interact with a contemporary woman (which should have destroyed the illusion of the 1960s). These are mistakes that the IMF would never make!

Still, despite its flaws, Project X remains a sporadically interesting sci fi feature. And, as mentioned earlier, the enemy's plan to destroy Western Civilization is a decidedly clever one.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Republicans vs. Democrats in a Disney Musical?

Walter Brennan as Grandpa Bower.
You could call it the Mary Poppins Syndrome. That's the "disease" that convinced Walt Disney Studios that it could harvest box office gold with lavish, lengthy family musicals. The result was a trio of flops: The Happiest Millionaire (1967); The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968); Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), the most blatantly Poppinsesque. None of these ambitious endeavors have improved with age, though I know a handful of fans who champion Millionaire and Broomsticks. Perhaps, someone will come to the defense of the film we're reviewing today.

The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (hence referred to as Family Band) starts out well enough with an introduction to the Bower family, which consists of Calvin, Katie, their nine children, and Calvin's father. Grandpa (Walter Brennan) wants to get the musical family to St. Louis to perform at the Democratic Convention in 1888. In fact, he has even written a song about President Grover Cleveland ("Let's Put It Over with Grover"). 

Lesley Ann sings about love.
Meanwhile, the eldest daughter, Alice (Lesley Ann Warren) is preparing to meet her pen pal boyfriend Joe (John Davidson). Joe is a stout Republican, so he and Grandpa butt heads almost immediately when they meet. Joe sings a rousing song about Dakota (which still awaits statehood) and pretty soon the whole family is moving there. Other than a desire to be near their daughter, I couldn't fathom why Calvin and Katie would want to move their brood.

Once in Dakota, it's a battle royale between the town's Republicans and Democrats--with Alice caught in the middle between Grandpa and Joe. There are more forgettable songs and, after what seems like a very long time, the plot climaxes with the town's residents learning the outcome of the election between Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison. (It's actually a fascinating piece of political history, since Cleveland won the popular vote, but lost the election because Harrison had more electoral votes. Moreover, Cleveland later became the only U.S. president to return to office for a second term after a defeat.) 

John Davidson at age 27.
I'm not sure why the Disney Studios thought a musical built around politics and a bland romance between two young adults would appeal to children. Brothers Richard and Robert Sherman composed some unforgettable songs during their tenure at Disney. However, their score for Family Band may very well be their worst. The only highlights are a decent solo number by Lesley Ann Warren ("The Happiest Girl Alive") and a pleasant duet between John Davidson and her ("Bout Time"). This was the second teaming of the two, following The Happiest Millionaire.

Janet Blair and Buddy Ebsen.
Walter Brennan, who excelled in supporting roles during his long career, gets thrust into the lead role and struggles to carry the film. Buddy Ebsen and Janet Blair are sadly wasted. If the latter's name doesn't sound familiar, then check out her excellent performance in the creepy 1962 witchcraft classic Night of the Eagle (aka Burn, Witch, Burn). She also once played Peter Pan in a local theatre production with Vincent Price as Captain Hook (would have loved to have seen that!).

According to some sources, the original cut of Family Band was 156 minutes. It was edited to 110 minutes for its theatrical release. Songs by Buddy Ebsen and Janet Blair were left on the cutting room floor.

Goldie with John Davidson.
It's interesting to note that Family Band co-stars Kurt Russell as one of the Bower kids and Goldie Jeanne Hawn (as she was billed) as another girl romanced by Davidson. Sixteen years later, Russell and Hawn reconnected when they starred in Swing Shift. They have been together ever since and have a son named Wyatt.

Finally, in July 2015, I interviewed Pamelyn Ferdin--who played little Laura Bower. I should have asked her about Family Band, but instead I focused on her more notable roles in the Peanuts specials (as Lucy), the Clint Eastwood Western The Beguiled (1971), and on the original Star Trek TV series.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Big Clock: Man Against Time

What would you do if you were asked to track down a suspected murderer and your quarry

That's the dandy premise behind The Big Clock, a smart 1948 suspense film sometimes misclassified as a film noir. Ray Milland stars as the protagonist, who explains his predicament via voiceover in the opening scene and then flashes back to 36 hours earlier.

Ray Milland as George Stroud.
George Stroud (Milland) works at Crimeways, one of many magazines published by ruthless media magnate Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton). Stroud, who specializes in finding criminals on the run, is looking forward to his honeymoon. It's a bit overdue considering he and his wife (Maureen O'Sullivan) have a five-year-old son. When Janoth directs him to cancel his vacation plans and personally cover a story, Stroud quits his high-pressure job. That evening he meets Pauline, a pretty blonde (Rita Johnson) who turns out to be one of Janoth's disenchanted mistresses.

Instead of meeting his family at the train depot, Stroud commiserates with Pauline. They visit several bars, stop at an antique shop, and wind up at her apartment. She nudges a tipsy Stroud out the side door when Janoth arrives unexpectedly. When Pauline berates Janoth during an argument, he flies into a rage and kills her.

Janoth turns to Steve Hagen (George Macready), his second-in-command, who covers up the crime. The only problem is that Janoth saw a man standing in the shadows outside Pauline's apartment door. He and Macready decide to pin the murder on the mysterious stranger...assuming they can find him. And who better to track down a suspected killer than George Stroud?

Laughton and mustache.
While there is much to like in The Big Clock, uneven performances and a lack of attention to detail hamper it to some extent. Charles Laughton, who can be a very fine actor, makes Janoth into a one-dimensional monster. When he strokes his mustache with one finger, it's oddly reminiscent of an intentionally overplayed vaudeville villain. Ray Milland fares better as the hero, but I'd expect a crime journalist to show more intelligence when it comes to investigating a murder scene. When Stroud returns to Pauline's apartment, he picks up a clock--thereby marking it with his fingerprints (and yes, fingerprints were admissible as evidence in U.S. courts as early as 1911).

The standouts in the cast are Rita Johnson as Janoth's mistress and Harry Morgan as a masseuse who doubles as a killer. Morgan doesn't have a line of dialogue, but lurks creepily in the background as Stroud and his team conduct inquiries. I was expecting an exciting confrontation when he encounters Stroud inside the "clock room" of the Janoth building. Alas, one punch knocks Morgan's character down some stairs and he never appears again.
Note Harry Morgan lurking between Macready and Milland.

Ray Milland and Rita Johnson.
As for Rita Johnson, she appeared in many classic films (Here Comes Mr. Jordan, The Major and the Minor), but usually in secondary roles. She turns Pauline into a bright, likable character who flirts sweetly with Stroud and then verbally attacks Janoth aggressively. In real life, Rita Johnson suffered a brain injury in 1948 that caused lapses of memory and partial paralysis. The official story was that a large hair dryer had fallen on her in her apartment. However, she had other bruises on her body that led to speculation that she may have been beaten. After her brain surgery, she only appeared in a handful of films. She died in 1965 at age 52. Click here to read an article about her alleged accident.

Milland inside the big clock.
Director John Farrow, husband of Maureen O'Sullivan, directs with a sure hand and emphasizes the importance of time, but he adds little stylistically. His opening tracking shot from the outside to the inside of the Janoth building recalls Roy William Neill's earlier Black Angel (1946). The interior of the big clock, the film's most interesting set, is barely used. John Seitz's black-and-white cinematography is crisp as always. He worked on several famous noirs (e.g., Double Indemnity, This Gun for Hire), which I assume is why some critics consider The Big Clock to be a film noir. Thematically, though, it doesn't fit in that genre (now it might be different if Stroud had been unfaithful to his wife).

Sean Young and Kevin Costner.
Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman starred in an above-average 1987 remake called No Way Out. Costner played an unmarried Naval officer who began an affair with an attractive young woman (Sean Young), who was also mistress to the Secretary of Defense (Hackman). After Hackman's politician murders his mistress, he accuses her "other lover" and recruits Costner to find the alleged killer.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Five Swimming Pools in Classic Movies

Even by day, it's a creepy pool.
1.  Taste of Fear (aka Scream of Fear) - The creepiest swimming pool on film is not the one from Cat People (see below). No, it gets edged out by the dark, dank pool in this excellent 1961 Hammer suspense film. Susan Strasberg plays the film's wheelchair-bound protagonist, who seems obsessed with the murky waters after returning home following a ten-year absence. In one of the best scenes, she imagines seeing her father's corpse in a room opposite the pool and, consumed with fright, falls helplessly into the shadowy water.

Poor Jane Randolph!
2.  Cat People - The most famous swimming pool scene is undoubtedly Jane Randolph's nearly fatal dip in Jacques Tourneur's chilling 1942 classic. She plays Alice, a young woman who goes for a late night dip in the basement of her apartment building. Alas, she is unaware that she has been followed by a jealous wife who can transform into a panther. As Alice treads alone in the water, dark shadows drift across the walls, followed by a panther's growls and a fleeting silhouette of a large stalking cat. Good stuff!

Burt Lancaster looks concerned.
3.  The Swimmer - On an afternoon in suburban Connecticut, middle-aged Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster), still looking fit in swimming trunks, decides to "swim his way home" by navigating through a series of neighbors' pools. There were plenty of unusual films in the late 1960s, but The Swimmer is one of the oddest--a sort of esoteric version of Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries courtesy of Frank and Eleanor Perry (David and Lisa). Still, it's critically praised in some quarters and can count film critics Roger Ebert and Vincent Canby among its fans.

4.  The Dragon Murder Case - The best adaptation of a Philo Vance detective novel, this 1934 mystery begins with a wealthy playboy disappearing after a night-time dive into a natural lake called the Dragon Pool. When he fails to turn up after a day, the police drain the pool and discover claw marks on the sandy bottom. Later, Philo Vance discovers the dead body in a "glacial pot-hole" on another part of the estate. The victim's mangled body is covered with large claw marks--as if he had been ripped open by a dragon.

Esther Williams in a flaming pool.
5.  Bathing Beauty - There had to be an Esther Williams movie on this list, right? We opted for one of her first major roles in this 1944 musical comedy with Red Skelton. The huge swimming pool is pretty impressive, with white steps and backlit columns in the background and a barrage of ladies dressed in pink, yellow, purple, black, and shimmering white (that'd be Esther!).

5.  The Thrill of It All - Yes, there is a tie for the last spot because we felt compelled to include this sparkling 1963 Doris Day-James Garner comedy. Doris plays a housewife who unexpectedly becomes the TV spokesperson for the Happy Soap Company. Inevitably, several boxes of the product are kicked into the pool and eventually transform into a giant cloud of foamy bubbles--leading to one of the film's best known scenes.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

George Plimpton: Acting with The Duke, Swinging on a Trapeze, and Playing Quarterback!

Plimpton and Joe Schmidt.
It’s embarrassing now to admit that I didn’t know much about George Plimpton when I started watching his TV specials at age 14. I knew he had written the nonfiction book Paper Lion, in which he went “undercover” as a rookie quarterback on the Detroit Lions football team. And I knew a 1968 movie had been made from Paper Lion starring Alan Alda as Plimpton. That was pretty much the extent of my knowledge about him when I watched the first of his six TV specials.

The premise of the Plimpton! TV specials was the same one the writer had explored in Paper Lion (and even earlier in his career): How would an average person fare in a “glamorous” profession? His first special premiered on ABC in 1970 and was subtitled “Shoot-out at Rio Lobo.” It traces Plimpton’s experience as an extra (billed as the “4th Gunman”) in the Howard Hawks Western Rio Lobo, which starred John Wayne.

Plimpton with John Wayne.
There’s a lot of humor in this behind-the-scenes documentary of life on a movie set as George spends much of the episode rehearsing his only line of dialogue. As he stands behind Wayne, he points his rifle at a lawman and utters: “This here’s your warrant, mister.” However, when it’s time to shoot the scene, director Howard Hawks walks over to Plimpton and tells him to change the line to: “I got a warrant right here, Sheriff.” The befuddled actor jokes that he spent a week rehearsing his line--but he still manages to speak the new one with appropriate menace. He then reacts convincingly when John Wayne “pops” him in the head with a rifle.

His big scene, though, is supposed to be when John Wayne shoots him. In preparation, Plimpton seeks advice from the stunt men on the set (one of them recommends that he die with his eyes open). However, when the time comes for his death scene, Plimpton is rigged to a harness that will pull him back into the saloon wall. He also learns that Jorge Rivero’s character will kill him instead of Wayne. When Henry fires, Plimpton is jerked back against the wall. It's a great effect—but, alas, leaves George no time for any acting during his “big death scene.”

In the other Plimpton! specials produced by David L. Wolper, George photographs elephants in Africa, tries his hand as a stand-up comic, and drives a race car. My two favorites, though, have George return as a quarterback (this time with the Colts) and train as a trapeze artist. The latter special is a fascinating examination of the strength and agility required to work on the trapeze. Plimpton prepares for weeks to perform what most of us would consider a simple trapeze move--“simple” only in comparison to the amazing feats we see high-wire artists routinely perform with ease.

In “The Great Quarterback Sneak,” Plimpton goes back to the football field. The difference this time is that everyone knows who he is. In Paper Lion, only the coaches knew that Plimpton was a journalist. Plimpton’s one regret from that experience was that the National Football League did not allow him to play in a pre-season game. In his TV special, Plimpton gets the opportunity to get on the field—even if it is during halftime—and run a few plays against his “former” team: the Detroit Lions. I don’t remember how Plimpton fared, but I suspect his success, if any, was modest.

George Plimpton--everyman.
In his obituary on George Plimpton, Bill Curry, who was the Colts center when Plimpton played, recalls some details not in the TV special: “(On) day one, he shocked us by requesting to get into the ‘nutcracker’ drill as a ball carrier. Now, the ‘nutcracker’ is one blocker, one tackler, and one runner. It is the most primitive, violent one-on-one drill in football. Well, when (linebacker) Ray May planted George head first in the dirt on his first carry, the ball went one way and George's right thumb went the other. "Dear Gawd, look at this!" he exclaimed as the injured digit dangled uselessly. We all assumed our little television experiment was over. We did not know George Plimpton. That afternoon, he was back in pads, taking snaps with the other quarterbacks.”

The Plimpton! TV specials are entertaining, insightful, and funny. Yes, it’s amusing to watch an “ordinary guy” try to do the things that only extraordinary people can do. But these shows also serve as a testament to a tough-minded journalist that was willing to take some risks to satisfy his own curiosity—and who was modest enough to share his experiences with the world. George Plimpton didn’t mind if we chuckled at his experiences even if he took them seriously.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Movie-TV Connection Game (August 2016)

The rules are simple: Given a pair or trio of films or performers, your task is to find the common connection. It could be anything--two stars who acted in the same movie, two movies that share a common theme, etc. As always, don't answer all the questions so others can play, too. There is a single best answer for each question.

1. The films Trapped (1973) and Miracle on 34th Street (1947).

2. Humphrey Bogart and Elliott Gould.

3. The films Blue Thunder and Cross Creek.

4. Dr. Strangelove and Blazing Saddles.

5. Paper Lion and Rio Lobo.

6. Creepers (1985) and Phenomena (1985).

7. The TV series Mr. Ed and the film The Fountainhead.

8. Rosalind Russell and Jack Lemon.

9. The film Macon County Line and the TV series The Beverly Hillbillies.

10. The TV series Captain Kangaroo and Bette Davis (this one may be tough!).

11. The TV series The Beverly Hillbillies and the Abbott & Costello movie Jack and the Beanstalk.

12. Hayley Mills and Bette Davis.

13. Frank Langella and Bill Murray (another potential toughie).

14. Elizabeth Taylor and Susan Sarandon.

15. Jeff Goldblum and Michael Rennie.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Olympics in Classic Movies

Jesse Owens in Olympia.
Documentaries, fact-based dramas, and fictitious tales of inspiring athletic feats have revolved around the greatest event in international sports. 

Leni Riefenstahl’s controversial Olympia (1936), a vivid record of the 1936 Berlin games, remains a powerful tribute to the athletes and the spirit of the games--all this despite an underlying theme praising Nazism. Kon Ichikawa’s mesmerizing Tokyo Olympiad (1966) was trimmed from 170 minutes to 93 for its U.S. release, though the shortened version still included the dynamic volleyball match between the women of Japan and the Soviet Union. Visions of Eight (1973) featured segments by eight international directors (including Ichikawa again). Most critics found it disappointing, except for John Schlesinger’s dramatic feature on the grueling marathon. 

Film biographies of inspirational Olympians have been devoted to athletes such as: decathlete Bob Mathias (The Bob Mathias Story); track star Wilma Rudolph (Wilma); the 1980 U.S. hockey team (Miracle on Ice and Miracle); gymnast Nadia Comaneci (Nadia); ice skater Oksana Baiul (A Promise Kept: The Oksana Baiul Story); and runners Billy Mills (Running Brave), Jesse Owens (The Jesse Owens Story), and Gail Devers (Run for the Dream: The Gail Devers Story).  

The 1976 TV-movie 21 Hours at Munich recreated the tragic terrorist killings that cast a dark cloud over the 1972 Olympics. Another TV-movie, The First Olympics : Athens 1896 (1984), chronicled the events that led up to the first modern-day games. It Happened in Athens (1962) offered a fictitious view of the same events, placing special emphasis on Jayne Mansfield as an actress who agrees to marry the winner of the marathon. 

Jim Hutton and Cary Grant.
Earl Derr Bigger’s proverb-quoting detective Charlie Chan uncovered a murder plot at the Berlin Games in 1937’s Charlie Chan at the Olympics. Charlie’s No. 1 son (Keye Luke) was even a member of the U.S. swimming team. Jim Hutton played an Olympic walker in the 1966 romantic comedy Walk, Don’t Run, which found him in overcrowded Tokyo sharing an apartment with Samantha Eggar and matchmaker Cary Grant. A 90-pound weakling sent off for a weight-lifting program and grew up to be a muscular Olympic hammer-thrower in 1956’s charming British film Wee GeordieThe Golden Moment: An Olympic Love Story (1980) found an American decathlete (David Keith) falling in love with a Russian gymnast (Stephanie Zimbalist) at the 1980 Moscow Games , which the U.S. boycotted after this TV-movie was made. The 1978 Special Oylmpics was a heartwarming story of a mentally retarded youngster who finds fulfillment playing sports and enters the Special Olympics.  

Here's a list of films about the Olympics (or which feature the Games prominently in the plots):

Million Dollar Legs (1932)
Olympia (1936)
One in a Million (1936)
Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937)
Jim Thorpe: All American (aka Man of Bronze) (1951)
The Bob Mathias Story (aka The Flaming Torch) (1954)
Wee Geordie (aka Geordie) (1956)
It Happened in Athens (1962)
Tokyo Olympiad (1966)
Walk, Don’t Run (1966)
Downhill Racer (1969
The Games (1970)
Visions of Eight (1973)
21 Hours at Munich (1976 TVM)
The Loneliest Runner (1976 TVM)
Wilma (1977)
Special Olympics (aka A Special Kind of Love) (1978 TVM)
Animalympics (1979)
The Top of the Hill (1980 TVM)
On Thin Ice: The Tai Babilonia Story (1990 TVM)
Swan Song (1980 TVM)
The Golden Moment: An Olympic Love Story (1980)
Chariots of Fire (1981)
Miracle on Ice (1981 TVM)
Personal Best (1982)
Running Brave (1983)
Nadia (1984 TVM)
The Jesse Owens Story (1984 TVM)
The First Olympics: Athens 1896 (1984 TVM)
Going for the Gold: The Bill Johnson Story (1985 TVM)
16 Days of Glory (1986)
Reach for the Sky (1991)
Alex (1993)
A Promise Kept: The Oksana Baiul Story (1994 TVM)
A Brother's Promise: The Dan Jansen Story (1996 TVM)
Run for the Dream:  The Gail Devers Story (1996 TVM)
Prefontaine (1997)
Without Limits (1998)

Reprinted with the authors' permission from the Encyclopedia of Film Themes, Settings and Series.